From simple clerical errors to half-truths and long-forgotten lies, some coaches and athletic administrators aren’t always what they say they are.
College degrees were worked on but not completed. Letters claimed to be earned in a sport were never received. Awards are made to sound better than they really were.
“I hope most of them are just honest mistakes, not an ethical problem,” said Wally Groff, the athletic director at Texas A&M. “I’d like to believe that.”
Last December, George O’Leary left Notre Dame in disgrace after admitting he had lied about his academic and athletic credentials. Since then, resumes and biographical sketches have been scrutinized as never before, and at least a half-dozen coaches and athletic directors even the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee have lost their jobs.
Everyone is suspect. Athletic directors as well as graduate assistants. And at universities around the country, the once-informal process of updating existing bios now often comes with official forms to be kept on file.
“I guess we just have to appreciate it comes with the territory,” said John Heisler, associate athletic director at Notre Dame. “You would have to have your head in the sand to not understand why there are questions being asked.”
In athletics, practical experience always has mattered more than fancy credentials. A resume was something to be passed around at the introductory news conference and then forgotten.
When biographical information was put together, most sports information departments simply would pass out last year’s bios, ask coaches and staff to read them over and let them know if any changes were needed. Some read them carefully, others gave them only a passing glance.
“We’ve gone on the honor system that, ‘Yes, you looked at this, and yes, it’s accurate,’” said Pete Moore, associate director of athletic communications at Syracuse and the president of the College Sports Information Directors of America.
“What has happened has caused all of us to re-evaluate and take a look at how we acquire and maintain that information.”
The challenge now for schools and organizations is avoiding becoming the next headline. At the annual convention of sports information directors earlier this week, one seminar was called the “Resume Crisis.”
Most schools now have coaches sign forms acknowledging they’ve read their biographical sketches and that the information was accurate. The forms will be kept on file.
“It’s not a legal form,” said Scott Reed, the sports information director at DePaul. “[But] we don’t want people to say, ‘When he was at DePaul he did this, this and this.’ This way, we have it in the file that the coach signed off on this before the 2002 academic year.”
Within days of being hired as Notre Dame’s coach, O’Leary admitted he had lied on his resume. He never lettered in football at New Hampshire as he claimed, and he didn’t earn a master’s degree from New York University.
O’Leary, now an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings, won’t comment on the matter anymore, a Vikings spokesman said.
If it had happened at any other school, it might not have sparked such a furor. But this was Notre Dame, where the spotlight is bright and far reaching.
Within weeks, inaccuracies were discovered in information for Georgia basketball assistant Jim Harrick Jr. and Charlie Partridge, the director of football operations at Iowa State. At Georgia Tech, where O’Leary had worked for seven years before leaving for Notre Dame, two assistants hired by new coach Chan Gailey were found to have misleading bios.
One of the assistants was forced to resign, and director of communications Mike Stamus was demoted.
“While we do have an obligation to get our facts straight, there’s a debate out there as to who should actually be checking those facts or checking those backgrounds,” Stamus said.
“I certainly don’t want to have false things in anything we produce,” he added. “That’s where I’m responsible. It doesn’t matter what the source is.”
While newspapers throughout the country scrambled to examine the resumes of the coaches they cover, many athletic directors told their coaches and staffs to reread their bios and this time, do it closely.
“Mistakes can be made, and we don’t catch them,” Texas A&M’s Groff said. “I said, ‘Read what you’ve got and make sure it’s accurate. Just don’t get caught in the same traps others have gotten caught in.’”